FOX47 NEWS - 911 Center Audit

Jeff Angileri
Feb 12, 2009, 11:06 PM

Dane County now has an audit of its 911 center, seven months after a dispatcher hung up on a call from murder victim Brittany Zimmermann.

Dane County asked for the audit to better its efforts.

One of the biggest problems is how dispatchers coordinate emergency calls with police. Right now, the dispatch center works with 85 different law enforcement agencies. They all have different protocols and it's hard for dispatchers to remember them.

If you rely on your communicators to remember how agency 'x' wants to do something versus how agency 'y' wants to do something, you've built in a guarantee for error, said Travis Miller, with Matrix Consulting Group, who completed the study.

To fix that, the audit suggests updating the Computer Aided Dispatch - or CAD - system. It's a $4 million fix, but should help dispatchers work better with police and EMS.

One recommendation that's already happened is the addition of more staff. Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk used Thursday's audit announcement to introduce a new 911 training center, where 10 new recruits begin training in March.

We ask them to do a very important and stressful job, said Falk.

Also a priority -- using an automated message system, so people don't hang up when they call 911.

Miller gave an example message, You've reached the 911 center. We're experiencing high call volume. Please do not hang up or you'll lose your place in line.

County leaders wouldn't give a timeframe for when the changes would take place, or how much implementing them would eventually cost.

We'll get it done, it's a priority, said Scott McDonell, Dane Co. Board Chair. The big money was the positions. We already added those, they are in the budget. The CAD has already been budgeted for. You can try to expedite that, but it's a big endeavor. You can't rush it.

The audit's authors tried to assure people improvements have been made.

This is a fine dispatch center, Miller said. I've been in good ones and I've been in bad ones. This is a good one. I think people should feel confident that if they call 911, that they're going to get good service and help is going to come when they need it.

According to the audit, the dispatch center is also doing a good job of checking up on hang up calls. That was a critical point after two mishandled calls last year ended with Madison police officers finding two people murdered. The audit found less than 1 percent of hang up calls are not returned -- that's better than national standards.

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